As survivors continue to share their stories nationally and globally, LaFASA and many of our accredited centers have seen a rise in the number of survivors reaching out for advocacy, counseling, and legal assistance. Most survivors do not report their assaults (RAINN estimates that 2 of every 3 sexual assaults are not reported). #metoo has inspired more survivors to seek services from competent and caring practitioners at their local sexual assault centers. We want survivors to have the help they need on their healing journey, but this increase can also be overwhelming at times.
Managing Secondary Trauma
Healthy coping skills are an important part of preventing secondary trauma. Not everyone likes the same coping skills, and it is great to explore different ones until you find what works for you. Deep breathing, positive affirmations, or grounding exercises can be helpful if you are facing a difficult situation. These “acute” coping skills, or ones that may help you to calm down when facing a stressful or trigging situations, are useful for calming down quickly. Following the use of an “acute” coping skill, be sure to make a plan for a more “long-term” coping skill later in that day. These “long-term” coping skills are something more time consuming, but they help one to manage stress better for longer. Examples include processing your feelings with a therapist, spending time with loved ones, and activities that you enjoy.
Sometimes, it can seem like there are never enough hours in the day to create time for these coping skills. If that is the case, find a way to include them in your existing routine. Set a healthy boundary at work by closing your office door during your lunch break to read, call a friend, or do some light stretching. Practice belly breathing on your drive home from work. Helping survivors starts with keeping yourself healthy.
Coping skills are especially important for survivors. Stories of sexual assault are beginning to receive the attention that they deserve, and this can be triggering for survivors of violence. We encourage anyone who needs help to reach out to their local center or the LaFASA 24/7 hotline, 888-995-7273.
When a survivor discloses their assault to you, believe what they say and affirm their experiences. Safety is a necessity, so begin by assessing for safety, especially if they are not standing in front of you. It can be difficult and traumatic for a survivor to share their story, so listen carefully and validate their feelings. Know how to contact your local center or LaFASA, and learn about the sexual assault services available. If you are able, donate to your local center. Financial contributions are always helpful, but this is not the only way to help. Donations of new clothing and personal care items are often welcome. Donating your time as a volunteer is also a great way to impact survivors in your community.
Finally, if you are already working in the movement (either directly or as an allied professional), find an opportunity to learn something new. No two survivors are alike, and taking the time to become more competent in working with survivors of color, LGBTQ+ survivors, survivors with disabilities, survivors who are immigrants, or survivors with mental health and chemical dependency (check out our upcoming Risk Reduction webinar!) will improve your abilities as an advocate.